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In the Mulberry Street Court by Jacob A. Riis

 

“Conduct unbecoming an officer,” read the charge, “in this, to wit, that the said defendants brought into the station-house, by means to deponent unknown, on the said Fourth of July, a keg of beer, and, when apprehended, were consuming the contents of the same.” Twenty policemen, comprising the whole off platoon of the East One Hundred and Fourth Street squad, answered the charge as defendants. They had been caught grouped about a pot of chowder and the fatal keg in the top-floor dormitory, singing, “Beer, beer, glorious beer!” Sergeant McNally and Roundsman Stevenson interrupted the proceedings.

The Commissioner's eyes bulged as, at the call of the complaint clerk, the twenty marched up and ranged themselves in rows, three deep, before him.

They took the oath collectively, with a toss and a smack, as if to say, “I don't care if I do,” and told separately and identically the same story, while the Sergeant stared and the Commissioner's eyes grew bigger and rounder.

Missing his reserves, Sergeant McNally had sent the Roundsman in search of them. He was slow in returning, and the Sergeant went on a tour of inspection himself. He journeyed to the upper region, and there came upon the party in full swing. Then and there he called the roll. Not one of the platoon was missing.

They formed a hollow square around something that looked uncommonly like a beer-keg. A number of tin growlers stood beside it. The Sergeant picked up one and turned the tap. There was enough left in the keg to barely half fill it. Seeing that, the platoon followed him downstairs without a murmur.

One by one the twenty took the stand after the Sergeant had left it, and testified without a tremor that they had seen no beer-keg. In fact, the majority would not know one if they saw it. They were tired and hungry, having been held in reserve all day, when a pleasant smell assailed their nostrils.

Each of the twenty followed his nose independently to the top floor, where he was surprised to see the rest gathered about a pot of steaming chowder. He joined the circle and partook of some. It was good. As to beer, he had seen none and drunk less. There was something there of wood with a brass handle to it. What it was none of them seemed to know. They were all shocked at the idea that it might have been a beer-keg. Such things are forbidden in police stations.

The Sergeant himself could not tell how it could have got in there, while stoutly maintaining that it was a keg. He scratched his head and concluded that it might have come over the roof, or, somehow, from a building that is in course of erection next door. The chowder had come in by the main door. At least one policeman had seen it carried upstairs. He had fallen in behind it immediately.

When the Commissioner had heard this story told exactly twenty times the platoon fell in and marched off to the elevated station. When he can decide what punishment to inflict on a policeman who does not know a beer-keg when he sees it, they all will be fined accordingly, and a doorman who has served a term as a barkeeper will be sent to the East One Hundred and Fourth Street station to keep the police there out of harm's way.

 
 
 

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